England head coach Stuart Lancaster has openly admitted that the Red Rose have not pieced together a full 80 minutes of their best rugby so far this autumn. The first half against Australia was littered with sloppy turnovers, knock-ons and uncharacteristic missed kicks from Owen Farrell. The second half was better as they ran in a couple tries, albeit controversial ones. England achieved the level Lancaster would have craved in the opening 40 minutes against Argentina but the second was a turgid affair, allowing the Pumas to get a foothold into the game. It doesn’t take a video-analysis boffin or many backroom staff to figure out stepping off the gas against New Zealand will lead to an embarrassing defeat. The cardinal sin is giving the All Blacks’ back-line possession and field position with their pace, skill and intelligence – and England will know if they do this the Kiwis will rack up the points unlike the Wallabies or Pumas before them. Dylan Hartley will have to show extreme accuracy from the line-out and the England midfield will have to lead by example, hopefully after quick and precise ball from Lee Dickson.
England were 38-21 winners last year after taking the game to the All Blacks and playing on the front foot. This inspired the Twickenham crowd, who helped energised the players on the pitch to the historic win. The fans at the home of English rugby have been surprisingly muted in the previous two internationals comparatively, which is an accusation rarely made. England’s players will be all too aware that they must get the crowd going for this crunch clash – and Lancaster’s men will do this by playing on the front foot. Last year, the whole team took the game to the Kiwis. Tom Wood and Ben Morgan made a string of shuddering tackles, Manu Tuilagi broke the gain-line and offloaded to give England great ball. Lancaster will be hoping Billy Vunipola and Billy Twelvetrees can be equally adept at gaining ground, can step in and ignite the crowd and put England on the front foot – and more importantly New Zealand on the back foot.
Every point will be paramount against the All Blacks so it goes without saying Farrell will need to be striking it well from the tee. His blushes were saved against the Wallabies as he missed relatively easy kicks in the first half. There will not be so many chances against a disciplined and smart Kiwi side, so every chance gains even more importance. From hands, England will have to chase down with intent. They could have been considered slightly lackadaisical in the first two tests of the series in this area. The All Blacks are destructive on the counter-attack, and given time and space, they are capable of cutting through any defence.
With the captains coming together the breakdown will be of huge importance. All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw is a master in this area and will inevitably get his hands on plenty of ball in the ruck as he always does. England’s forward line must be on hand at the double to clear away the likes of Liam Messam, Kieran Read and McCaw himself, who will all be looking to give their backs that quick turnover ball and field position they crave so much. Aswell as the sizeable task of stopping one of the game’s greatest-ever breakdown exponents in his opposite number McCaw, captain Chris Robshaw will be Lancaster’s man on the pitch, aiming to gee up his side and make sure they are all carrying out the game plan.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge